Monday, June 13, 2011
X-MEN: FIRST CLASS
by Reymundo Salao
It was the 1960's and it was a time of Cold War. It was also a time when genetic mutation has began to manifest its existence among the population of mankind. A group of mutants led by Sebastian Shaw are planning a diabolical plot to start World War 3, and CIA operative Dr. Moira MacTaggert sought out the help of a mutant named Charles Xavier to aid them in the capture of the mutant criminals. Along the way, Xavier & MacTaggert meet Erik Lensherr and several other mutants who would aid them to bring Sebastian Shaw and his mutant criminals to justice and prevent World War 3.
This movie serves not just a prequel to the X-Men series, but may very well be a restart of the franchise to set things right. And yes, I do indeed wish for X-Men to have a fresh start or maybe at least do a storyline in the similar vein with JJ Abram's Star Trek movie which weaves the old movie continuity with this new continuity.
I initially thought that this was going to be indeed a prequel because the movie starts out with the same flashback to the Nazi concentration camp scene, as is in the first X-Men movie. But I say that this is a new continuity because of its inconsistencies as well; In X-Men part 1, Xavier says he met Erik (Magneto) when he was 17 and they built Cerebro together; that is untrue according to this new movie. In X-Men 3, there is a flashback of Xavier (who is not yet disabled) and Magneto in their late 30s/early 40s meeting Jean Grey as a kid; but in the end of X-Men First Class, Erik & Xavier have already become enemies, not to mention, Xavier has at that point become disabled. With those things considered, it would be unwise to treat X-Men First Class as a prequel to the first three X-Men movies.
X-Men: First Class is its own movie. And I love the hell out of it. There were more than several moments wherein both the storyline and the script gave me positive chills. This movie achieved what the Star Wars prequels failed at, which is originally attempting to tell a story of two iconic heroes who became close friends and the breakdown of that friendship because of a clash of beliefs. The friendship between Xavier and Erik are well translated onscreen, that you do feel their genuine care for each other, that when they finally must choose to oppose each other at the end, the pain of that is evident emotionally.
X-Men First Class is a superhero movie that is not afraid to show onscreen villains utilize their powers in realistically evil ways. What Azazel does to his victims, or what even Magneto does to his victims is ruthlessly violent; the kind that may not have been easily acceptable at least 5 years ago in superhero movies. But now is the right time to give an appropriate approach to movies like this in an almost perfectly equal level with what the mature comics really portray in terms of how dense their character arcs are, how creatively complex the stories are told, and realistically ruthless some scenes can be.
There is a whole lot of action in this movie; but that which is not your typical action. I am not talking about elaborate fist-fights martial arts and gunfights. The action here is super-power based. The cleverly conceived action is done by whatever superhuman abilities are being used. I would even dare to say that this movie is more daring than the first X-Men movie because this one has little to almost zero standard action scene. The height of the action is whatever kind of power they will use to fight each other, and there is a whole lot of outwitting the other opponent.
The film was set in the 1960s and I adored the entire look of the film; from the costumes to the set designs; I felt like I was watching one of those Sean Connery James Bond movies. But there is a degree of simplicity and does not go so far to exaggerate or even call upon itself as having a retro feel. It just simply is, and feels like a 60's movie. And most especially that they used Rose Byrne playing Moira Mactaggert, who I think has that 1960s film star beauty, she looks like a Bond girl. Although on the other hand, I could not say the same for January Jones playing Emma Frost; The White Queen, who is not as pretty as the role originally suggests, but does look like a Bond movie villainess. Although she seems to fit the atmosphere, her acting felt bland.
There is a very brief scene of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) in the movie wherein Professor X and Magneto try to approach him, and as they were just introducing themselves, Wolverine simply told them: "Fuck off" This was a brilliant cameo appearance which, in its less than a minute of appearance, is the most accurate portrayal of the anti-hero comicbook character, and it seems that they are bent on portraying Wolverine properly from now on hopefully.
For me, the movie was so close to perfect except for a few minor ignorable scenes at the final 15 minutes of the movie. One was right after Xavier got shot, and when Magneto was delivering his final farewell to Charles as a friend, as he bid his final words of goodbye, we see Magneto and the mutants who would rally by his side line up in formation and just suddenly, without any initiating dialogue, they held hands as if they were about to sing Kumbaya or the People Power theme song. Yes, we all know of course that they needed to do this so that Azazel could teleport them out of that place. But the sequence seemed silly with that pose of them holding hands.
Another funny thing about the last 15 minutes of the movie is Magneto's red costume at the end and how he customized the helmet. Sure, it is a combination of the classic Magneto costume and the Magneto costume from the previous X-men movies. But this one seemed to have a loose fit. It looked like he was wearing a pajama. And his helmet; sure it's nice that they were faithful in depicting Magneto's actual original helmet, but I think it does not translate in real-life movie format all too well. It also didn’t help that his pose was a bit awkward and without any little stretch of "comicbook macho" poise.
The best scenes of the movie show us how imaginative and how simply creative Matthew Vaughn's style is. One simple scene that blew me away was in Shaw's room where he is forcing young Erik Lensherr to manifest his skills, and the camera shows us the other side of the room which reveals a laboratory filled with what could possibly be torture devices as well. Another scene is when the young mutants hear crashing noises and they later realize that the teleporting mutant Azazel is one-by-one killing off government agents by teleporting them up in the air and having them crash down. This was such a unique kind of a killing spree scene. It was also refreshing to find that this movie does not shy away from showing such a ruthless scene, it shows proof that comicbook-based movies like this are now given more or less the equal mature treatment it has in the comicbooks as well.
Aside from other minor errors of the movie, such as the special effects in some scenes, the movie is superb. Almost flawless and almost reaching the level of "Dark Knight Excellence" I can easily say that this is the best X-Men movie I have ever seen. And I hope this is the start of a better X-Men series.